Just over two weeks after its premiere in Vienna, Hungarian audiences will be able to see Samu Gryllus and Brina Stinehelfer’s documentary-based interactive chamber opera. The Geiseloper/Hostage Opera will be available online from 19:30 on 29 May, as part of MASZK Association’s event series called Spring Collection 2021.
The work, composed by Samu Gryllus with the active participation of the audience, uses the hostage drama that took place in 1973 in Balassagyarmat, and the social reactions of the time as a model to explore the role of the community in the development of traumas and its power to process it.
The story, which spans five days and five nights, is presented in a unique way through a special online interface (Spatial Chat). Not only as spectators, but also as participants in the chamber opera, as witnesses to the events, anyone who buys a ticket to the performance will be able to get closer to the story, the music, the performers, and the creators in different ways at different stages of the performance.
After almost a decade and a half of silence, the hostage drama at Balassagyarmat on which the piece is based has been the subject of several newspaper and TV reports, subjective recollections, literary and film reconstructions, but it has taken more than forty years to uncover facts such as those mentioned in Csenge Hatala’s book.
As a result of years of research, the book was published in 2015 under the title Hírzárlat (the libretto is also based on this authentic source), and it is unique in that most of the former characters of the hostage drama begins to speak here for the first time.
“In the hostage-taking action, which is still well-known in Hungary today, two young sons of the local barracks party secretary took hostage of the inhabitants of a girls’ college with weapons stolen from their father’s safe. During the first days of the hostage-taking, the recently deceased Dr. István Samu, a psychiatrist at the local hospital, tried to negotiate with the hostage-takers. The boys told him that they would get a result even if somebody got hurt—perhaps they would die—, because one way or another the “system exposes itself,” i.e., by taking a human life it admits that it is a lie that in socialist societies the greatest value is Man. Of course, the system had already spectacularly disproved this principle on several occasions, but the boys, as children of a father loyal to the system, failed to see this. The psychiatrist tried unsuccessfully to explain the unreality of this situation to the hostage-takers and to persuade them to surrender, as their plan was doomed to failure,” says Samu Gryllus.
Samu Gryllus, the composer of the piece was born in 1976 in Budapest. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Liszt Ferenc Academy of Music and studied at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna. In 2008/2009 he was a Fulbright Scholar at Wesleyan University (Connecticut, USA) with Alvin Lucier and Anthony Braxton.
He earned his DLA in 2019 at the University of Theater and Film Arts, Budapest. Since 2013, he has been the leader of the Composition Department at the Vienna Music Institute in Vienna, and he frequently leads workshops using Soundpainting, a universal multidisciplinary live composing sign language for musicians, actors, dancers, and visual Artists. He composed chamber operas for Sophiensaele Berlin, Trafó House of Contemporary Arts, Theater an der Wien, the Peter Eötvös Contemporary Music Foundation, and the Hungarian State Opera. He has won numerous awards and scholarships. Since 2013, he has been the artistic director of the Transparent Sound New Music Festival. He frequently works with musicians who have backgrounds in different genres of music.